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2013_nic_square_brightI am a Ph.D. candidate in the Telecommunications department at Indiana University. My research centers on the processing and effects of video games. Additionally, I use games as an experimental tool for investigating various social scientific phenomena. Specifically, I am interested in violence and morality and I integrate evolutionary and social psychology into my research. My inquiry relies on experimental, content analytic, and survey methodologies.

Two foci drive my current research program. First, I am investigating how psychological distance affects perceptions of violent content and subsequent aggression when playing video games. Second, my dissertation aims to explore the nature of human moral intuitions using an array of perspectives such as Moral Foundations Theory, Moral Condemnation, and Relationship Regulation.

Regarding teaching, I draw from two areas. First, my education in Telecommunications at the University of Georgia (BA, 2007) and my work experience as a journalist and ad designer centered on media creation. Thus, I am eager to teach classes that emphasize production, writing for media, advertising, and design. Second, my education in Mass Communications and research experience at Indiana University (MA, 2011) has prepared me to teach courses focusing on media psychology, communication theory and methods, and classes that rely upon my research expertise.

Media Arts & Sciences Series: Nick Bowman

What is the meaning of this?

Understanding the contentious relationship between video game play and video game narrative

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Dr. Nick Bowman from West Virginia University’s Department of Communication Studies discussed how modern video games carefully tread the line between enjoyment and appreciation. He argued that the emotions in games can fuel appreciation and the core game play elements drive enjoyment. Because of this duality, Nick asked can designers produce a meaningful game by appealing to gamers’ emotions without sacrificing game play?

Nick’s question is a fascinating one because he bases his suppositions on limited capacity models (e.g., LC4MP). Specifically, he argues that interactivity is intrinsically cognitively demanding because it taxes cognitive, behavioral, and affective systems. Simultaneously, narrative demands resources for it be impactful. For example, when playing a Batman video game players experience a tug-of-war between the narrative world of the game (i.e., Gotham city) and the ludic systems at play (e.g., game rules, levels systems, button combinations). In other words, gamers implicitly attempt to bring together the experience of being Batman and playing as Batman. Although the concept seems simple, it’s unclear if it’s possible to marry enjoyment and appreciation. Further, it’s not certain that a balance is even desirable.

What’s more, modern game design complicates this equation. It’s arguable that modern designers yearn for games that forgo fantastic–and perhaps cliche–narratives for games that provoke powerful emotions using settings increasingly grounded in reality.

In part, I feel like this vein of scientific curiosity aims to address what makes good art. At some level, art must immediately engage yet retain some iota of complexity to capture and keep one’s interest. For example, movies must avoid being too base or people will label it crass, boring, or empty; yet, the movie can’t be overly cerebral or people will label it as pretentious. Perhaps games are suffering some growing pains due to their evolution away from high scores toward elevating experiences.

Video games, violence, and common sense

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Below is the introduction to a blog post I wrote on video game violence. Both Gamasutra and Motivate Play published it earlier this year.

Media violence research waxes and wanes like many other research topics. Focusing events train the collective gaze of the world on single point. When Facebook changes how it shares our information, we discuss our tenuous grip on privacy. When Twitter aids in the coordination of a revolution, we discuss the awesome power of social networking. Similarly, when violent tragedies occur involving youth, many look toward the research surrounding violent media—video games in particular. Unfortunately, this body of research often elicits more confusion than clarity.

One of the central questions at hand is if violent video games cause elevated levels of aggression. A great deal of research suggests that…

Read the full article at Gamasutra or Motivate Play!

Proseminar – Ozen Bas & Betsi Grabe

Shrinking Knowledge Gaps?

The informative potential of emotionally personalized news

Mind_The_Gap_Logo_by_rrwardFor IU Telecom’s Media Arts & Sciences Speaker Series Ozen Bas and Betsi Grabe presented their recent research on emotionally charged news. Building off the current understanding of the knowledge gap, they argued that democracy needs an informed citizenry. But democracy struggles because of the differences among individuals regarding cognitive inadequacy and/or motivation. Additionally, some suggest that news media are not fulfilling their role of accurately informing the public because they focus on subjective reporting that emphasizes emotion over cold, hard facts (i.e., reason).

The idea that emotionally laden news is bad comes from the notion that emotion and reason cannot co-occur. To rationally engage with content means you can’t be emotionally invested. But more recent work within political and cognitive science shows that the emotion and reason can bolster one another. Thus, Ozen and Betsi’s work explored how emotion better serves memory for news content based on one’s level of education.

A 2 (education high vs. low) x 2 (time 1 & time 2) x 2 (personalized vs. non-personalized story) experiment revealed that emotional content increased memory for news content for all subjects. However, the benefit was most noticeable among lower educated participants. The time analyses showed that memory decayed more for those with lower education levels. Finally, those with lower education levels remembered more general details about the news stories and those with higher education levels remembered more specific details about the news stories.

I think these findings pose a curious challenge for dual-process accounts such as the elaboration likelihood model (ELM), as it distinctly separates heuristic and systematic processing. Furthermore, the ELM argues that systematic processing leads to stronger attitude persistence. Perhaps Ozen and Betsi’s work reveals that parallel process accounts (see Khaneman’s research) better account for our retention of news content.

Cogsci Colloquium – Fiery Cushman

Two Functions of Morality

Yesterday I heard a provocative talk on morality by Fiery Cushman of Brown University’s Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, & Psychological Sciences at IU Cogsci’s Colloquium Series. His research attempts to unravel the mechanisms that motivate differing judgments surrounding wrongness and punishment.

To illustrate, he told us to imagine two men drinking at a bar together. They leave simultaneously and drive home. One man falls asleep at the wheel and hits a tree. He’s okay, the tree’s okay, but he is punished with a $250 fine for the DUI. The other man, however, falls asleep at the wheel and hits a child playing in a yard. Although he’s fine, the child dies and he is punished with 10 years in prison.

In this example both men have equally wrong mental states (intentions) but there were differing outcomes. Cushman’s work examines why punishment focuses so much on outcomes rather than intentions.

The presentation shared numerous studies and concepts but my favorite was the delineation on wrongness vs. punishment judgments. Cushman explained that wrongness judgments are prospective. We begin assessing the mental state that led to the subsequent action. Conversely, punishment judgments are retrospective. We work backwards to find out what caused the ultimate outcome. Because of this, punishment judgments are outcome-based (or biased) and wrongness judgments are intent-based/biased.